Stawell favourites show their class
MONEY often talks at the Stawell Gift and that was certainly the case with Australia's richest footrace seemingly at the mercy of the favourites.
Teenager Matthew Rizzo has been at the top of betting all week and he showed why with a devastating heat victory in the fastest time of the day.
The 18-year-old university student from Langwarrin was the $2.50 favourite coming in and that price will shorten after his heat win in a slick 12.10sec.
In the women's Gift, Papua New Guinea's Toea Wisil had been at the top of betting charts in the lead-up and the backmarker confirmed that ranking with an impressive heat win.
The biggest betting plunge of the day came in the women's event with 16-year-old Liv Ryan backed from $31 into $2 before her heat and she is the third fastest through to the semi-finals.
After finishing fifth in last year's Gift final, Rizzo, who is off 7.5m, declared he had a "better engine" this time around.
"I'm one year older and one year stronger," he said. "I'm coming in with a better engine this year.
"I didn't know what form I was in coming in, I just wanted to get the first one out of the way.
"It gives me confidence but there's heaps of blokes out there who come Monday can drop times and win it. So I'm in contention. I hope I have more in me come Monday, we will see."
Last year's winner Isaac Dunmall, who won his heat in 12.47sec, is optimistic about his chances of chasing a bit of history.
"No one expects someone to go back-to-back it's only been done once - Bill Howard - and that was 50 years ago," he said.
"I saw that a couple of weeks after I won I was looking through the record books and noticed Bill Howard won this in 1966 and 1967. Hmmm, it's a possibility but its going to be very hard.
"I think what Bill did will never be beaten, two-in-a-row the way he did it was pretty incredible but if I can make a final I will be extremely happy."
In the women's event, Wisil confirmed her form from the Australian championships a fortnight ago where she defeated national record holder Melissa Breen.
The Queensland-based sprinter, who was running from scratch, clocked 13.89sec to easily win her first race at Stawell.
"I'm excited to be here," she said. "For me, whatever (mark) they give to me I will take it as a challenge in a positive way."
Breen finished second in her heat but also progressed but the intrigue around 16-year-old Ryan was the story of the day.
The past two women's Gifts, which now command the same $40,000 winner's cheque as the men's race, have been won by schoolgirls with 15-year-old Talia Martin saluting last year.
Ryan, who is off 11m, finished third in her heat but her time of 13.74sec behind Taylah Perry (13.69sec) had her ranked third overall.
"I have no idea (why her odds plummeted). Seriously, I have been injured all year so I don't understand why. I have had injuries all season," she said.
"Hopefully I have something left but I don't know."
National 400m hurdles champion Lauren Wells is also through after winning her heat in 14.01sec.